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We the People – The Return of Citizen Voters Part 2

By Harry Boyte, Center for Democracy and Citizenship, as follow up to this blog post.

As I argued in the “We the People” post on the American Democracy Project blog on September 22, in an election season dominated by attack ads and hollow campaign rhetoric, voters of every stripe are responding in kind. They express disgust that politicians haven’t fixed our problems, while voicing the certainty that politicians can’t possibly do anything useful.  It is a long way from the animating message of collective action embodied in the winning theme of the 2008 campaign, “Yes we can.”

Despite the challenges, a “We the People” initiative that aims to animate “citizen voters” in 2012 could have significant effect. While many leaders are needed in such an initiative, college students in American Democracy Project schools can take key leadership, reminiscent of the roles students played in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

When the question is the civic health of elections, the government, and the nation itself, and when the electoral process is threatening to spin out of control, we need a broad movement in which the whole citizenry works to redeem American democracy. Civically-oriented politicians are allies and partners, not enemies, in this work. Steve Kelley, a friend who ran for the Democratic nomination for governor this last spring on a productive citizenship message, said much the same thing based on his experiences. He had been head of the education committee in the state senate, and came close to winning the nomination. But he said that when your message is civic revitalization, it’s very hard as a candidate to “supply” it unless there is “demand.” This is doubly true for governance – it may be the problem of the Obama administration, which shifted quickly after the election from “yes we can” to “I and my administration will do it.” While Obama’s shift reflects the dominant government-centered approach to governance around the world, it also responds to the never-ending demand from citizens that government “fix things.”  This has to change.

A “We the People” movement should aim to create demand for citizen-centered politics and governance, embodying the spirit of the preamble to the Constitution with its powerful, productive verbs. These convey the point that “we the people” create government as the instrument of our collective work. Below are several elements which suggest that preparation for and enactment of a “We the People” movement could transform the experience of citizenship not only for the students but also for the country.

1)  Public stages in the civil rights movement. The March on Washington is the obvious example, recounted splendidly by Charles Euchner in Nobody Going to Turn Me Around – a People’s History of the March on Washington. The program notes summarized the message, calling people to avoid provocateurs who might incite violence: “In a neighborhood dispute there may be stunts, rough words and hot insults; but when a whole people speaks to its government the quality of the action and the dialogue needs to reflect the worth of that people and the responsibility of that government.” Euchner’s book shows how the March and its long, careful preparation called the nation to citizenship. The new book by Bruce Watson, Freedom Summer: The Savage Season That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy, could also be a primer for students today. It tells the story of how college students organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee faced down the brutality of racist police and civic organizations to dramatize segregation. At the end of the summer, at the Democratic Convention, Fannie Lou Hamer, a tenant farmer and civil rights leader, transfixed the country on television. Such moments, while transforming the lives of those directly involved, also significantly impacted broader public attitudes, laying the ground for civil rights victories and for deep culture change.

2)  Public stages in broad-based organizing. The heart of broad-based organizing (of the kind which shaped Obama) is public stages, “accountability sessions,” where citizens interact with politicians in mature, confident ways. An excellent account is found in Richard Wood’s Faith in Action, a study of the cultural politics of broad-based organizing. He shows how the Catholic priest in an affiliate of the Oakland Community Organization educates his congregation to “act like adults” with politicians, rather than like needy children. There are also limits to this pattern, stemming from organizers’ pessimism about larger change. Interestingly, Obama’s essay in the collection After Alinsky: Community Organizing in Illinois (1990) identified them. Obama observed, “Most community organizing groups practice…a ‘consumer advocacy’ approach, with a focus on wrestling services and resources from the outside powers that be. Few are thinking of harnessing the internal productive capacities…that exist in communities.” With millions of citizens now bewailing the failure of the administration to solve our problems, this is the time for a “We the People”/Citizen Voter movement to catalyze a different dialogue, focused on the agency of everyone.

3)   Public stages in Public Achievement. I began Public Achievement, a youth civic education and engagement initiative, in 1990, with lessons of the civil rights movement in mind. In Public Achievement, young people work on public problems and issues they identify, ranging from teen pregnancy and drug use to school curriculum and recreational opportunities. We have seen again and again that when young people feel visible, competent, confident, and taken seriously in public settings they are able to integrate the civic meaning of their work with a new depth and impact. For instance, PA teams from eight schools met with the newly-elected Governor Jesse Ventura in 1999, interacting with him in an “adult way.”  They all said their confidence stemmed from the seriousness of their public work. It had large impact on the young people and a huge impact on Ventura, who recognized one of the team leaders, Joey Lynch, a thirteen year old in the PA playground group at St. Bernard’s, as a “citizen leader prevailing against all odds” at the first State of the State address to the legislature. Ventura gave stories from this encounter for months, contrasting it with the gushy celebrity encounters which young people usually had with him.

4)   Responses to the “We the People” blog. These speak to the need for self-reflection, discussion, and careful preparation if we are to make much dent in elections and people’s views of government. They suggest passion for taking action to change election dynamics and also the larger alienation from government. As Yasmin Karimian, the savvy president of student government at University of Maryland/Baltimore who led a shift from government as a social service and complaint body into an organizing center, put it, “I cannot wait to get to work [on this].” Karimian observed that despite their success in transforming student government, students need to “really change the way we think about government,” since they feel that broader change is “a daunting task.” Tim Shaffer describes how the consumer/infantilizing culture affects us all. Amy Bravo highlights how elections are a rare moment of visible public encounter in our society. Bill Payne’s comments come from the documentary he and a Republican did about the 2004 election, 50 – 50. It showed how voters are much more sophisticated, complex, and insightful than the partisan boxes they’re usually placed in.

5)  The “Millennial Generation.” By 2012 with the election of 2010 as an embarrassing text, young adults, “Millennials,” will be more than ready to help to create a dynamic in which citizens challenge each other and all of us to act like adults, moving from shoppers of government services to owners of the store. Young people are accused of apathy. But as Cecilia Orphan, the young manager of the American Democracy Project, puts it, “While the ‘me first’ is there, it’s not the animating theme for the generation. We’ve had these events in our lives (9/11, the tsunami in Asia, Hurricane Katrina, Obama’s election, etc.) where we got engaged and felt like we were making a difference. But then it tapered off because there were no clear ways forward. There was no one helping us understand that these events were a call to sustained – not episodic – citizenship.” Heather Smith, director of Rock the Vote, made a similar point on the News Hour September 29, explaining why young adults aren’t enthusiastic about the ’10 election. “People got engaged in ’08 [because] they do believe, as a generation, they can change this country and change the world. And [Obama] pointed a path forward to do that. Afterwards, they felt like, where did our leader go? They can be reengaged and re-energized. But someone needs to push that path forward.”

6)  ADP as a base. Many campuses in the American Democracy Project have organized candidate forums over the last several years, and Constitution Day, September 17, is widely celebrated. A “We the People”/Citizen Voter effort in 2012 needs to build on such experiences and other deliberative public work, hosting and organizing multi-layered forums.

We’ll need a careful planning process, fundraising, and an organizing team to make this real. It will need to be a step by step process, but several other possible building blocks are appearing: These include

  • The November 11-12 Civic Agency Initiative meeting in Washington;
  • The civic engagement education minor meetings — making the electoral dysfunction a topic of discussion and constructive work with  the five teacher education programs to integrate Public Achievement into their core curriculum can convey the reality and importance of their work;
  • We the People/Citizen voter training workshop in the Twin Cities spring 2011. The CDC is considering organizing at least one such workshop;
  • The ADP national conference, which may have a citizenship focus;
  • Work with the Kettering Foundation on their issue book for 2012; the foundation has expressed interest in making the NIF book a resource for “We the People”;
  • Work with the American Library Association Center on Public Life, which has a strong relation with campus libraries. According to Nancy Kranich, such libraries and their staff are underutilized civic resources;
  • Constitution Day, September 17, 2011, on ADP campuses, which could be an occasion to talk about and prepare for the election in 2012.

There are many ways to define success in a We the People/Citizen Voter effort, and a spectrum of possibilities. These range from a handful of campuses where students prepare, undertake public work, organize candidate forums, and learn lasting civic lessons, to the generation of a broad movement through ADP and beyond. In the latter case, many other groups and citizens could join in. The potential is very large.

Getting started: We encourage “salons” or “coffee parties” this fall, discussing the election, its problems, and how to begin preparing for a citizen response in 2012. The key, as Bill Payne stresses, is that these should be diverse, with differences especially across partisan divides.

Whatever transpires, the words of the freedom song are to the point: We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. I agree with Harry, the time is right for “We the People” to engage. We should reinvest the time and energy that is being used burying in our heads in our TVs to watch the sad tableau of reality shows–the worst of the all–the politicians pointing fingers of blame at political foes in snappy commercials and sympathetic news outlets.

    We all need to vote. But we don’t all need to buy the nasty rhetoric political campaigns are using. Our time is better spent ignoring such superficial dramas and make time doing some real substantive work for causes we care about, our country and community. We simply can’t underestimate our ability to impact change–while leaders are locked up in meetings or powdered up for PR pieces.

    Nonpartisan Productive Dialogue has many opportunities for students and citizens of all perspectives and political stripes to engage in our human right to exemplify and employ are human capacities for cooperative efforts. Take a look at this, a blog post echoing Harry Boyte’s call.

    Andrea Grazzini Walstrom
    Founder, Nonpartisan Productive Dialogue


    October 7, 2010
  2. michael johnson #

    We the People – The Return of Citizen Voters Part 2


    I heartily endorse “college students in American Democracy Project schools can take key leadership, reminiscent of the roles students played in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.” More than that, I cheer it on with relish. But it is barely a beginning, and needs a large, very large frame for it to contribute to where we need to go in terms of achieving a deep democracy.

    Let me start by taking issue with you on your claim that “the electoral process is threatening to spin out of control.” It’s not threatening to spin out of control, it already has and firmly so ever since 1896.

    While Obama’s shift reflects the dominant government-centered approach to governance around the world, it also responds to the never-ending demand from citizens that government “fix things.” This has to change.

    This situation that you describe as having to change is essentially what the banksters and barons of late 19th century succeeded in establishing as the dominant political culture after they crushed ever cooperative and labor and populist effort to create a democracy movement from the ground up. For some 20 years these upstarts succeeded in giving voice to coherent political options that advocated democratizing our financial and business systems. All of this was essentially shut out of mainstream dialogue by the Republican party’s victory in the 1896 elections. Now there is no significant voice within mainstream politics—and this includes the progressives—that is not essentially shaped by what Lawrence Goodwyn has so aptly called a “culture of deference,” which supports a top/down operating system within a formally democratic political system. No mainstream political discourse calls into question the basic contours of that culture. In fact, most of us are virtually unaware of a) the severe limitations of political options that the culture we carry embedded within our nervous system imposes on us, and b) that we are to a great extent the purveyors of that culture because we keep replicating it and don’t know it. The top/down system is embedded in our nervous system, all the way up and all the way down. So are our powerful inherent cooperative drives. Witness the Chilean miner rescue, many of the responses to 9-11 and Katrina and Haiti. But we are trapped in our culture of individualism and consumerism to degrees we don’t realize. The recommendations you make in your Part 2 are good, but they don’t cut deep enough. We need a movement that is seeking to bring all democratic movements together for the sake of creating a democratic culture that actually operates outside of our current proto-democratic or faux-democratic culture.

    I have written about this within the context of the movement for a cooperative economy. The most comprehensive statement I have produced is an incomplete draft of a preface to a paper by Ethan Miller explaining the solidarity economy network. I submit it here since my other responsibilities does not give me the time to do justice to what I want to say here.

    Vision of a solidarity democracy movement
    Draft preface to a paper on the solidarity economy: key concepts and issues
    Current political events and the devastating economic fallout for the many in the US demonstrate the need for deep and broad democratic change. Change that can enable people at all levels of our society to participate effectively in shaping the worlds they live in. Those of us committed to this kind of change need to move beyond our complaints about the inadequacies and injustices that abound and who is to blame for them. We need to shift our considerable energy and talent to creating—step-by-step—a mass democratic movement that can make things work differently.
    If we do that with humility and honesty we will see that we face three major deficiencies among ourselves and our institutions:
    too little money,
    extra-ordinary fragmentation, and
    too little internal democracy.
    This need not be disheartening. In fact, it can be a source of profound renewal. Seeing these two problems in all their dimensions can empower us to the point of creating a whole range of new opportunities for making “another world” possible. How could this be so? Simple: we could see what we need to do to get out of the ruts we are spinning in.
    Poor, we can only be powerful enough to make marginal impact. We must figure out and create systemic ways so that every penny a committed individual spends, every penny democratic organizations spend, and every penny any network committed to democratic empowerment spends circulates and re-circulates within our movements.
    Fragmented, we are and will continue to be marginalized by the anti-democratic dynamics that currently prevail (and have for more than a century). Deeply and broadly connected, however, we could have significant influence for expanding democracy, justice, and the economic well-being in this country.
    We could also recognize that we are not, in our persons and organizations, sufficiently the change we want to bring to the world. Not by a long shot. However, becoming deeply democratic in all of our relationships could create levels of self-empowerment, broad vision, and cooperation that now we can only imagine in our remarkable moments of clarity.
    We can, over time, solve these three overarching problems. The words “over time” are critical. Evolution is a slow but incredibly powerful process. We need to think in terms of generations as well as in deeds and years. It will be a long haul.
    But where to start?
    First, to see the abundance of democratic energy and accomplishment around us in spite of the crushing problems we struggle with. Second, to think and imagine what we can do with those energies and accomplishments.
    This paper does just that. Although it does not address the money problem at all, it does address the problem of fragmentation powerfully, and also gives significant attention to the lack of democracy within our ranks. If we want a deeply democratic movement, we can’t do one without the others.
    In addressing the problem of fragmentation, the paper proposes a comprehensive way to connect the four major movements in the US committed to democratic empowerment and greater well-being: economic democracy, civic engagement, ecological restoration, and social justice. For the sake of a name, let’s call it the Democratic Solidarity Movement, a 21st century movement grounded in a fresh, new approach to thinking about and strategizing for major social change—the Solidarity Economy Network. The paper suggests how we could begin to connect all kinds of grassroots organizing efforts for community-based democracy, social justice, and economic enterprises that put people and the planet first.
    What would constitute a Democratic Solidarity Movement? The four major democratic and mostly community-based movements mentioned above.
    First, there are many democratic or common good economic enterprises, projects, and practices, both social and for-profit, throughout virtually every community in the country. In every country, in fact. They constitute what is coming to be called the solidarity or social economy, as opposed to the unitary notion that here is only “the capitalist economy,” which is how we commonly think and talk and hear about all economics. Every local and regional economy depends on and thrives on both capitalist and non-capitalist endeavors that seek to serve the common good of people and the planet. The Introduction to the paper will show this in some detail.
    Next there is all the work going into restoring the ecology of our planet, especially the numerous local and regional efforts. Almost all solidarity economic enterprises exist to achieve environmental sustainability. How could they not be. Ecological well-being and economic practices are so deeply intertwined that virtually every notion of a solidarity or social economy embraces this movement, and every ecological project is confronted with the challenge of helping to transform our economic systems and practices.
    Third, social justice…(this is not completed, but I think you can fill in the blank.)
    Finally, civic engagement…)ditto)

    A way to think about and strategize for a solidarity democracy movement
    The Solidarity Economy Network (SEN) is the common way that has emerged for thinking about the social and ecologically minded economy of non-capitalist and capitalist ventures. It is an active strategy for integrating, from the ground up, all of these democratically-oriented economic enterprises and projects—locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. The SEN framework has emerged over the past two decades or so outside of the US in Latin America, Canada, and other parts of the world. A year ago several thousand people from all over the world gathered Luxembourg for the 4th global conference on the social/solidarity economy. It took a long time, but the SEN approach finally reached the US—two years ago—at the first US Social Forum in Atlanta, GA.
    The brilliance of the SEN approach is its way of focusing on the commonalities of these various economic and ecological enterprises while recognizing the diversity that abounds. It does this by seeing the enormous potential of connecting them into a solidarity network. That way of looking identifies the connecting spaces—mental, emotional, physical, economic, social, and political—for building solidarity. It offers an extra-ordinary opportunity for building a truly powerful mass movement for democracy. That means a movement that can be deeply connected, vibrant, and effective at all levels and in all sectors.
    Given the particulars of the under-developed state of democracy in the US, there is an opportunity of expanding this brilliance of SEN beyond the economic and ecological spheres. It can reach out to embrace fellow travelers in the social justice and civic engagement movements. The socioeconomic realities of the US are such that it is the paradigm of how two forces—anti-democratic forces and “mass cultural deference” (L. Goodwyn, 1978)—have fashioned and sustained the fragmentation and cultural stunting of democratic development. One result is that these forces—one active and the other acquiescent—have built a default firewall between society and economics. This dynamic has deeply embedded in our culture the assumption that there is a thing called “The Economy,” that it naturally stands free and clear of society and its politics, and should be treated accordingly. Nothing could be further from the truth, and nothing more destructive of our environment and all of our other commons.
    Restoring our Humpty Dumpty will be a huge piece of work. What we need for building a democratic solidarity movement are self-empowered and deeply democratic people who can bring us together in new and amazing ways. This is the message that the SEN movement that is emerging around the world sends to the US. It is a message that should resonate deep within us as we stumble through the fragmentation of our world, numbed by “the economy” that is not to be tinkered with, stunned by conventional party politics that has now descended into the absurd, and worn down by the raging cultural wars.
    And it should resonate deeply because, at the same time, there is a rich emergence of democratic potential, diverse movements blending some very basic elements: community organizing, local democratic capacity, ecological restoration, and a multitude of social justice issues. A chaos of potential that can become a Democratic Solidarity Movement using the strategic brilliance of the foreign-born Solidarity Economy Network.


    October 15, 2010
  3. I appreciate Michael Johnson’s critical voice and would encourage others to chime in about the nature of a We the People movement developing over the next two years.

    I disagree with Johnson’s argument that the political system has “firmly been out of control since 1896” – such a sweeping view of history wipes out decades of organizing work and people’s efforts, everyday and sometimes grand, which have made positive democratic changes. These efforts include the freedom movement of the 1960s and the broad based organizing of the last three decades, full of lessons and experiences for developing a 21st century movement for people’s empowerment.

    Like others on the left, Johnson usefully points to challenges which concentrations of wealth and economic power pose to a genuinely democratic society. In my view, conservatives who have highlighted technocratic, expert-centered approaches widespread in our society have also made contributions to the tasks of democratic change. Technocratic approaches, informed by a positivist, detached view of science, devalue multiple ways of knowing – local knowledge, spiritual insight, wisdom passed down over generations. Technocracy substitutes abstract modes of thought about people, based on categories and statistical profiles, for a view of each human being as a unique, immensely complex, meaning-making, and story-telling agent of their own lives and co-creator of democracy. Technocracy has hollowed out local institutions which anchor a shared life together such as schools, religious congregations, small businesses, ethnic and cultural groups, nonprofits, and government agencies themselves, shifting them from civic centers to service providers. A powerful example of conservative argument in this vein is William Schambra’s “Obama and the Policy Approach.” It merits widespread discussion and debate.

    A We the People/Citizen Voters movement will be different, I believe, from ideological movements which seek to mobilize people around a detailed diagnosis of the reasons for our current political and civic troubles and a preset, detailed blueprint of what a future society should look like. Organizing (as contrasted with mobilizing) always begins “where people are.” People begin with a multiplicity of viewpoints and perspectives on the problems of powerlessness.

    That said, I do believe that there should be broad, overarching values in a We the People movement – I would suggest, for discussion and debate, agency, equality, respect, recognition of the immense worth and dignity of each person, freedom, participation, self-reliance, work that contributes, the importance of local places, rooted institutions and face to face relationships, among others. A We the People movement also needs to include people of many partisan viewpoints.

    Our overarching goal should be developing citizens’ power and responsibility in a critical period in the nation’s history, and reclaiming government as our partner and resource in addressing our challenges, as a crucial part of that task.

    The election in 2012 will create an enormous number of potential “public stages” in which people can interact with candidates at every level around these questions. These can provide opportunities for demanding an end to the pandering, infantilizing, polarizing, and demonizing which now increasingly characterizes American politics and insisting, instead, on adult, partnership type relations between voters and politicians.

    Broad based organizing, Public Achievement, and other experiences have created a treasure chest of what respectful, adult-type interactions can look like. And we need many stories of productive partnerships between people and government agencies and political leaders, in which citizens help to solve public problems and create public goods. These will stimulate and enrich such the interactions in public forums between politicians and other citizens.

    I visited Lone Star College in Houston, Texas (Kingwood Campus), last week, where an organizing team led by Professor John J. Theis is beginning Public Achievement with Splendora Early College High School, and off to a promising start. In the course of two days I met with hundreds of students of varied partisan beliefs. They were very eager to discuss how to recover a politics of “We the People.” Almost everyone agreed that we have developed too much of a “waiting for Superman” attitude, expecting government and leaders to fix things. Students also felt strongly that we have developed too much of a consumer mindset that defines the American dream by how much people have, not by what they contribute.

    And they liked the song of the freedom movement, which has become song of Public Achievement: We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.


    October 19, 2010
    • michael johnson #


      Thank you for your response and for inviting me into this dialogue. I also want to thank you for balancing out my “sweeping view of history” that our political system has been firmly out of control since 1896. The claim is certainly arguable. I did not intend to wipe out any of the work throughout the 20th century that you referred to.

      By “political system” I was referring to mainstream politics. For example, FDR grounded his New Deal on a coalition within the “political system,” and a cornerstone of that coalition was the Jim Crow politics of the South. At the same time there were many who working outside of the system—and undoubtedly those from within the system—working to prepare for the outburst of democratic energy that was the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s. Amazing things were achieved, and permanently so. Still, the movement exhausted its coherence as a movement, and in the end it could not bring itself to challenge the underlying economic system that MLK came to realize it had to take on. Thus, in spite of its awesome success (which, as a Southern white boy born in ’42, I experienced from the inside out) it did not alter the established political culture laid down in 1896.

      I strongly agree with you that conservatives have made significant “contributions to the tasks of democratic change. This is not a right/left issue. The rescue of the Chilean miners has demonstrated this dramatically. The central issue on the table is how do we develop a deep democracy—that is, a world in which the domination of a culture by a powerful elite of banksters and corporate managers—the high priests of the “Technocracy” you so justly highlights— could not be possible. In explaining his concept of “maximal Democracy” Michael Menser lays out what democrats from the left and right can unite around:

      “…maximal democracy considers the entire economic and sociocultural plane to be a proper field for democratic desires and practices. As such, the organization of everyday life in schools, recreation, the household, the workplace, religion, and the family unit are not distinct spheres to be protected by proper subjects for transformation. This democratization of society requires the (re)construction of a set of political and economic institutions that further the capacities and knowledges required for self-rule. Again, maxD is not a matter of spelling out individual rights. It is, rather, about the production of a set of collective capacities. Self-governance, then, requires individual and collective self-development. This, in turn, entails a high degree of political equality: all are to be educated in those relevant capacities and have avenues for participation and mechanisms to protect the citizenry from forces that would corrupt those avenues or threaten the self-development of the populace…”

      I have two key problems with your response. The first is in your making the dynamic of technocracy central. I agree it is a major issue, but it is secondary. What is primary is how do we begin developing deeply democratic people who can take on Menser’s challenge to reconstruct “a set of political and economic institutions that further the capacities and knowledges required for self-rule.” In my mind two factors make this primary.

      First, it is the lack of such people that makes domination by an elite possible. Caesars, absolute monarchs, tsars, and the robber barons, etc. did not have the technology we have today. What they had in common was the control of the use of the best technology of their times and the acquiescence of their populations that made this domination possible.

      Second, we don’t know how to develop people with deeply democratic “capacities and knowledges.” More importantly, I don’t sense much in the way of thundering calls that our democratic movements must make learning how to do this the top priority. What I do sense is that the challenge seems too daunting to zero in on it. And the lack of deep democracy within our movements is a place to begin.

      I am addressing this issue very explicitly within the cooperative movement in a series of blogs beginning with

      (Before going on to my second major disagreement with Harry, let me note an observation made in today’s NY Times by Roger Cohen. He was celebrating the Chilean rescue as global manifestation of “the capacity of human beings using reason, technology, discipline, unity, hard work and conviction to overcome odds and produce an inspiring outcome.” His observation:

      ”More than all the global contributions — the food and exercise regime from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the UPS-speeded delivery of drills, the Oakley sunglasses, the offers of Greek vacations (don’t Greeks need their cash?) — it was the withholding of one gift that was particularly revealing. The donated iPods were not sent down to the miners for fear they would prove isolating and break the life-saving camaraderie of “Los 33.” Salvation can still depend on seeing those around you.)”

      My second problem with your response to my blog comment is in not addressing the fragmentation of the various democracy movements. This includes the lack of a core economic component within virtually all of the social justice and deliberative democracy movements as well as to some parts of the environmental movement. It also includes a serious lack of interest within the alternative economies movement, which will be the subject of my next GEO blog (if I ever get the time to do it).

      Back to Michael Menser to lay out the issue:

      “Put another way, in a maximal democracy, economic production is not separate from the political; it is a modality of the political; economics is a way of doing politics and one that must not encroach upon people’s ability to participate in the system of governance. Even more, the so-called economy must help meet the needs of the general populace in order to insure and enable their projects for development and collective participation. Again, self-development and self-rule implicate one another.”

      The banksters and barons of 1896 knew that “self-development and self-rule implicate one another.” They set out to impose a culture in which the economic was separated from the political so that a) the economic would be free from being shaped by the people through the political, and b) their class could dominate the economic and be the decisive governing influence in political. And that is the system and culture we are living within today.

      P.S. Here is a section from a proposal I am working on with several people in NYC. It gives my basic thinking on the depth of collaboration we need to develop among our activists:

      Educating for Empowerment and Cooperation


      The project’s educational objectives include developing a transformative culture of self-empowerment and cooperation through transparency, dialogue, and trust. The first-year assessment will identify other skills that will require development and the project will offer educational programming to meet those needs. However, the Project’s primary educational focus will be on cooperative leadership development.

      Simply by involving people in new participatory mechanisms does not get at the root of the problem—that is, individuals not being able to access their own power. A metropolitan solidarity economy rests on the power of communities to make decisions for themselves, and for that individuals must understand their own barriers to cooperation and learn how to overcome them. Without this awareness and learning they cannot develop and internalize ways of relating that are grounded in power-with dynamics rather than power-over dynamics.

      To meet this challenge we will focus on recurring individual and group patterns that block productivity and creativity and are often reinforced by the top/down cultures favored by most organizations in the United States. Such change requires an intentional educational action that a) consistently focuses on developing transparency and trust, and b) organically introduces change in values, attitudes, and practices for a deeply cooperative culture throughout the SNYC. Building this kind of learning into all of our projects and actions has to be a top priority.

      The project will operate as a learning organization and a community of practice. Interactive group dynamics has emerged as one of the most powerful vehicles to achieve personal and group change. The emergence of many group methodologies over the past few decades will provide multiple models for council representatives to learn the art of conocimiento. This is a Spanish word without an English equivalent that essentially means ‘sharing knowledge about each other in order to know each other’. The more one is motivated for conocimiento, the greater capacity and desire for self-transparency. It goes like something this: “I want you to know me so that you will want me to know you. Then we can trust each other. Then we will want to use what we know about each other to help each other, not to protect ourselves from each other, nor to take advantage of each other.” This knowledge and trust of each other is essential for achieving deep self-empowerment and cooperation.

      Central to this practice is dialogue. Used as an instrument for reaching understanding among individuals in a group, rather than an for transmitting or manipulating information, It can lead to emancipatory knowledge which frees individuals and groups from the top/down values (paternalism and individualism) embedded in our culture. Dialogue is the route to self-reflection, self-knowledge, and liberation from disempowering beliefs. It is also the route to mutual learning, acceptance of diversity, trust and understanding. This includes developing the inner freedom to listen deeply and actively and to share, more free from fears and predefined conclusions, beliefs, and judgments.

      Dialogue requires shifting from goal oriented debate—which is intent on “solving” the conflict and achieving momentary resolution—in favor of an awareness based approach intent on understanding the conflict, dynamics, motivations, concerns, feelings, and signals of the conflicted parties. This allows people to become more flexible, to gain awareness of themselves and others to develop ownership of their own power, and to learn to facilitate and foster that awareness in others. In this way council representatives will work together to develop their own sustainable processes for working on difficult conflicts.

      This learning will be essential for building a core team and a growing network of organizations that can eventually govern itself democratically through informed participation. There are a number of organizations and communities seeking to address this issue, but we are not aware of any that have built a process for this kind of transformative change into their organizational structure. The Solidarity NYC Project would thus develop a model that could help agents of social change to claim their personal power and use it effectively as individuals as well as join with others to build wonderful relationships, communities, and organizations of cooperative power. The knowledge and practices developed would become available as a resource for others through our video documentation process.


      October 19, 2010

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